Teacher strikes

NASUWT: 78% reject move to formal pay strike ballot

'Political campaigning to secure a government prepared to fix the damage...must now be the priority'

'Political campaigning to secure a government prepared to fix the damage...must now be the priority'

industrial action NASUWT pay

Members of the NASUWT teaching union have voted by 78 per cent to reject moving to a formal ballot for strike action over pay and workload.

The union, which had around 270,000 members across the UK as of August 2022, said “political campaigning to secure a government prepared to fix the damage inflicted on the education service over the last 14 years must now be the priority”.

Its membership “have no confidence in the current government’s ability to deliver the changes needed”.

Teachers “need change from a new government that is committed to delivering a new deal for teachers and education”.

According to the union, 78 per cent “of eligible members surveyed in the union’s latest consultative ballot did not support moving to a national statutory ballot for industrial action at this time”.

Schools Week understands the union is not ruling out balloting its members at a later date, however.

A motion calling on NASUWT’s executive to “consider a further national ballot for industrial action on pay” was also tabled, but was withdrawn following the passage of the earlier motion in favour of political campaigning.

NASUWT has not yet released the wording of the ballot, nor has it said what the turnout was.

However, the announcement in February stated that it gave members “the opportunity to tell us whether you want to take industrial action on pay, workload, working hours and wellbeing”.

‘Not the time for gesture politics and token action’

Dr Patrick Roach, the union’s general secretary, said the government “has run out of time to fix the problems of 14 years of neglect and decline”.

Dr Patrick Roach
Dr Patrick Roach

“It would be a fantasy for the prime minister to pretend that he can claim the support of teachers at the general election by simply riding out the next few months and doing nothing.”

He said members would be looking “carefully at how the government responds” to the School Teachers’ Review Body recommendations on pay for 2024-25 and its own workload taskforce and “whether ministers will once again seek to dither, delay and play for time”.

“This is not the time for gesture politics and token action. The country is desperate for real change.

“The general election will be a crucial test of the government’s education record and its commitment to the future of the teaching profession.”

‘Prioritise political campaigning’

NASUWT’s conference in Harrogate today passed a motion asserting “that the outcome of the next UK general election must be a turning point for the future of our schools and colleges and for the future of the teaching profession”.

The next government “must be one that will commit to delivering a new deal for teachers”.

This must address the “spiral of decline across the UK with regard to teachers’ pay, morale, wellbeing, job satisfaction, recruitment, retention and the status of teachers”.

They also want to address the “rampant discrimination and exploitation of teachers by school and college employers, employment agencies and umbrella companies”.

Conference “deplores the actions of the Conservative government in holding the country’s teachers, children and young people to ransom by failing to set a date for the general election”.

A new deal “will only be secured when there is a government in Westminster that is on the side of our teachers, education and public services, and that political campaigning must now take priority over industrial action”.

It comes after the National Education Union announced yesterday that around nine in 10 voting members had backed strike action in its indicative ballot, on a turnout of 50.3 per cent.

Its executive will meet on Tuesday ahead of its own conference in Bournemouth to decide next steps.

‘We pick our battles’ says Roach

Instead of national strikes, over the past year NASUWT has chosen to “pick our battles”, Roach told delegates, focusing on action in individual schools.

“Running more than 10,000 successful individual workplace ballots last year alone. No other union has ever done more than this.

“Issuing notices for more than 270 days of strike action as well as action short of strike action against pupil violence, bullying employer practices, and workload. But, never asking our members to take action for action’s sake.”

Speaking to journalists after his address, he said “let’s not get obsessed about national ballots as if somehow that is action, a day or two strike action here or there doesn’t change anything”.

“Our members’ assessment is actually what’s needed right now is political change. And that’s the reason why we’re committing to that campaign to actually secure that change of government.”

NASUWT launched it’s teachers’ manifesto at last year’s party political conferences, and has been “talking to all the main political parties about that manifesto, and we’re taking that now onto the road”.

“We’re going to be running briefings for politicians from all parties about our asks, about why those changes are needed, in terms of what’s happening in the education sector, what’s happening to teachers, what’s happening to children and young people.”

But NASUWT – which is not affiliated to any party – is “not going to be on doorsteps shoving election pamphlets for any individual political party in the hands of the general public”.

Instead, he is hoping the public and members “put politicians on the spot”.

‘We must learn’ from ‘winter of discontent’

He also believes that without national industrial action going on, it will be easier to get parents on side.

His speech references the 1978 to 1979 “winter of discontent that culminated in one of the worst periods in our history – the election of the most hostile of governments intent on the destruction of our movement”.

He said unions “shouldn’t forget about our history…1978, 1979 was a watershed period for our movement”.

He compared this to the “historic” 1997 election.

“’Education, education, education’ was the mission of 1997, and it delivered. Teaching became the profession of first choice for UK graduates. We were at the table in social partnership securing a better deal for teachers, whilst others were happiest shouting from the sidelines

“And, we secured international recognition at the first summit of premier league education nations worldwide. But, in 2010, the new government pressed the detonator.”

He claimed education secretary Gillian Keegan told him during their last meeting to “stop being so negative”.

“Apparently, the reason for the teacher recruitment and retention crisis is that we are not doing enough to talk up the profession. My reply was simple. OK, Gillian, come on then – come to Harrogate and tell our members just what you think of them

“Perhaps I could have phrased my invitation a tad more delicately. But she hasn’t spoken to me since.”

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